New York Estate Litigation Can Involve The Transfer of a Decedent’s Apartment

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed in earlier posts the variety of issues concerning the transfer of a decedent’s assets. One of the most common and valuable estate assets is the decedent’s home. A person’s home can be in the nature of real property such as a single family home. However, New Yorkers are very familiar with living in the setting of an apartment in a high-rise building. Apartments can be as valuable and the subject of controversy as separate residential realty. A decedent may have been living in a cooperative apartment or even in a residential building where he was the tenant in a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled unit. These different forms of property rights can present unique problems to be resolved during estate settlement.

In the case of a cooperative apartment, the decedent’s interests may have been bequeathed in a Last Will to family members or may need to be sold to a third party purchaser.  In each instance, the general rule in a cooperative building is that a transfer of the Unit cannot occur without approval of the cooperative board of directors.  In many cases, such approval is not  easily obtained since the cooperative board is given broad discretion to approve or disapprove of the transfer.

A recent example of this transfer problem arose in a case entitled Estate of Helen Del Terzo v. 33 Fifth Avenue Owners Corp., decided by New York County Supreme Court Justice Ellen McCoin on September 30, 2014. In Del Terzo, the two sons of a deceased owner of a cooperative unit applied to the Board for approval to have their mother’s cooperative apartment transferred to them. The cooperative Board rejected their application. After the sons sued the co-op the Judge found that the Board acted unreasonably under the proprietary lease and directed that the Board approve the transfer.

A different situation often arises regarding rent-controlled and rent stabilized apartments. As a general rule, rent regulation statutes and rules provide that certain family members have a right to succeed to the interest of the deceased tenant. In other words, the family member has the right to take over the lease and become the new tenant. Since rents under rent-stabilization and rent control tend to be lower than market rate and the laws restrict the amount of rent increases, landlords and tenants are constantly fighting in Court as to whether a person is entitled to succession rights.

I have represented many tenants in connection with enforcing and protecting their rights to succeed to the interest of their deceased relative. One such battle in which I was not involved was recently demonstrated in a case entitled WSC Riverside Drive Owners v. Williams decided by the Appellate Division, 1st Department on February 10, 2015. In Riverside, a companion of the decedent was found to have had a family-like relationship with the decedent in order to satisfy the statutory requirements for family succession. The Court found the couple to have lived together, and relied upon each other and shared their social life as a couple.

The cases of Del Terzo and Riverside, while concerning different types of property rights, show the importance of understanding and protecting assets for beneficiaries. Experienced Estate Lawyers know that the first step to achieve a person’s desires as to the disposition of assets is to properly plan an estate and attempt to make certain that property rights will be transferred without problems. Also, it is imperative to obtain experienced legal guidance regarding estate settlement and interests in assets such as real property, cooperative units and rental apartments so that both estate and beneficiary rights are protected. I have represented many estate executors, administrators and beneficiaries in instances where these types of assets were a part of estate litigation and settlement disputes.

New York City probate lawyer, Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years throughout New York and Bronx Counties resolve issues relating to estate litigation and settlement in New York Probate proceedings. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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